Jenny and Carmine have travelled over the weekend to compete in the second edition of the Salomon Trail Marathon Wales in the world renowned Coed y Brenin Forest Park in the Snowdonia National Park.
Initially booked for Carmine and Jenny to compete in the Marathon, a late injury led Jenny to decide to take part in the half-marathon distance also available. The journey from Norfolk to Wales after work took a long time and a night of camping with strong winds and rain did not make for a relaxing sleep - Jenny would claim she was the only one kept awake by the elements though!
Early in the morning we checked our equipment and clothing to make sure we both were prepared for a potentially very wet race. My biggest concern was that I had decided to run in the marathon in spite of an injury I had since my LDWA 100 mile race only 3 weeks before. I adore my Salomon S-Lab Advanced 12L pack and I knew that for a quick supported marathon I should leave it behind. As I could not decide before registration I packed it anyway.
When we arrived at Coed-y-Brenin for registration we found that the race seemed to have been organised in every detail. Finding where to park was easy, registering took a second and even finding friends from the North Norfolk Beach Runners was easy too. Jenny and I were left with plenty of time to talk to others, listen to the marathon race briefing and making those final decisions about clothing and bags. As start time got closer, the weather seemed to hold - cloudy, but not raining!-. I took a gamble. I choose to carry my Paramo waterproof and wear my Icebreaker merino Team Castleberg race t-shirt and shorts. I would use all the water and food stations and run the quickest time my legs would allow. Jenny was thinking along the same lines. She had already decided against carrying a pack, but she still was wearing her Haglofs waterproof jacket.
The marathon started at 9 am. 370 runners, including some top ranking athletes, were ready to conquer this stunning, but demanding course which would present everyone with all kinds of trails and 1340+ metres of climb. I decided to use a very unusual approach! I chose to go fast from the start and accept I would have to slow down later on. I settled into a steady speed and I felt fully alive in the forest trails. Between miles 0 and 10 I stayed with some of the runners which will then be the winners of M40 to M50 categories. As usual I talked to many and exchanged some great fell running stories. The course became more challenging as tried to keep my average heart rate between 70% to 75%. Previous races had shown that I could do this… if not injured! Miles 10 to 18 so some very technical climbs and steep descents. Every now and then I would see a bruised runner! I kept my balance and manage to increase my speed. I could see that if I kept my pace going I might be able to complete in less than 4 hours. Every now and again I would think of Jenny and my other friends who were also running somewhere in that forest. As I find trail running an incredibly spiritual experience I thought of them and wished they would achieve their goal and stay safe.
Between miles 16 and 18 I started feeling that my legs were becoming heavier. The overcast weather had meant I had lost too much salt and I had drank too little. I knew from experience that not having replaced my fluids with enough electrolyte drinks would mean slowing down and potentially walking the last few miles. I realised that my mind was starting to shut down and play safe. At this point I decided to refocus on the very positive start and great progress I had achieved so far.
Miles 18 to 20 had some more severe climbs. This led to expected cramps to arrive and a consequent conscious decision to reduce my pace. This would mean I would be able to run all the way, but risk not to make the sub-4 hours dream. Stunning scenery helped me when my legs and my mind told me to stop and walk. Some of the runners I had overtaken were now coming past. In the spirit of trail running, I complimented them and encouraged them. They shared kind words too. As I reached mile 21 I realised that the organisers had left the two toughest climbs at the end. I rose to the challenge and kept going. 2 miles to go and I had been going for 3h50m I would not make it in sub-4 hours, but I was still doing well and overtaking other runners. This made me feel great. My choice of footwear had not been ideal this time. As many of the trails were hard and rocky, my Salomon Speedcross 3 had not provided enough midsole protection and my feet were screaming by now. With less than 3 miles to go I chose to think positive and, having completed many ultras already during my 2013 trail season, I decided to give everything and see how well I could finish.
The best moment of my race was when I turned to corner to see a crowd of spectators waiting for the finishers. I was still running strong and seeing my friends made me feel proud, happy and quite emotional too. I completed in 4h17m26s. A great result for me and a good placement too. 11th in the MV 40+ category was a good result. I saw Jenny too who told me her race had been hard, but all the training had paid off. She had completed in 2h37m in the top 30% of runners both overall and in her category. All that was left now was to enjoy the atmosphere, have a hot shower and go out for a drink with our friends. As the two runners who had come to Wales to represent Team Castleberg and our local club, North Norfolk Beach Runners, we felt very proud of our success.
The Trail Marathon Wales 2013 has been and will remain an iconic race. A tough, yet stunning course with great sponsors, organisers and athletes can only grow from strength to strength. We will certainly go back and aim to achieve even better results.
Carmine – Team Castleberg